Zengerle Hopes to Push Phantoms into Postseason

Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Mark Zengerle (#9 on right) is looking forward to transitioning to the AHL's Eastern Conference with Lehigh Valley in the fall. Photo: Amanda Statland
After another disappointing season ended with the Philadelphia Flyers' AHL affiliate missing the postseason for the seventh straight season, management made it clear that they're looking to turn things around in Lehigh Valley for the upcoming season.

The Flyers signed top-ranked AHL-level free agent forward Andy Miele, formerly of the Grand Rapids Griffins, shortly after the free agency period began on July 1st. A few days later, the Phantoms inked Miele's teammate and roommate on the road Mark Zengerle to an AHL contract for 2016-17.

"It was really funny how it worked out when I called him and told him I signed with Lehigh Valley," Zengerle said in a recent 1-on-1 interview, recalling a recent conversation he had with Miele at the beginning of free agency. "He couldn’t believe it. It’s awesome, he’s a great guy and it makes it easier for sure."

"It takes the nerves off you a little bit when there’s a familiar face there," Zengerle added. "A guy that knows the style you play. We played together for a couple years – same line, power play, stuff like that. Just to have that comfort level makes it easier when you get there."

While Zengerle hasn't had any talks with Phantoms' head coach Scott Gordon since signing with the team earlier this month, the way he plays appears to be a perfect fit in the way Gordon wants his team to play - a structured two-way game with speed and skill.

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Following four years at the University of Wisconsin, the undrafted 5-8 forward signed an AHL contract with the Grand Rapids Griffins - the Detroit Red Wings affiliate. Zengerle was very productive in his time in the league's Western Conference, tallying 37 (15G-22A) and 47 points (9G-38A) in back-to-back seasons to begin his professional career.

With his contract expired this summer, he decided to come to the Eastern Conference for 2016-17. That's when, according to Zengerle, the Phantoms came calling.

"I knew I kind of wanted a change," Zengerle said. "When I was speaking with my agent, they seemed like the most interested in me and what I provide. That was the biggest thing. You want to go where you're wanted the most."

The undersized forward comes to the Phantoms following an improved second season of pro hockey with Grand Rapids - a season where he either centered the team's top line between Eric Tangradi and  promising prospect Anthony Mantha or played on the right wing centered by Miele.

"I have played both. It doesn’t really matter to me," Zengerle explained of his versatility to play either center or wing. "Anyone can be down low helping the defense out. You hear the terms F1, F2, and F3 so often that it doesn’t always have to be the center doing the work down low."

Zengerle's versatility up front will go a long way in helping both the Phantoms and the Flyers when mid-season injuries and call ups occur. The ability to shift a player to the middle or the wing gives the organization more flexibility when making roster moves.

The Rochester, NY native is also a right-handed shot, which he believes gives him an advantage in the face-off dot - something the Phantoms had troubles with for much of last season. Much like many centermen, Zengerle takes pride in his face-off abilities.

The Phantoms are looking to continue to play with speed and skill and Zengerle, at first glance, appears to be a perfect fit. He also helps sure up some much needed depth down the middle lost due to Tim Brent's retirement and Nick Cousins' likely graduation to full-time NHL duties with the Flyers in 2016-17.

"I'd definitely say I’m a play maker," Zengerle said of his game. "I like to put the puck in the net as well, who doesn’t, but my strength is definitely my passing and vision on the ice. It would be nice to get a few more goals this year than I did last year," he added.

Zengerle's addition, along with the Flyers going after top-tier AHL talents such as Miele and defensemen T.J. Brennan and Will O'Neill have created a positive energy around the team heading into the fall. The buzz is being generated not only by fans, but some of the players and staff as well communicated their excitement to Zengerle in conversations he had after signing with Lehigh Valley a few weeks ago.

"Speaking with the other guys, it seems like there is a really positive thing going on there," Zengerle said, adding, "It always great to be a part of a good team, but even when you’re good on paper you have to show up and ultimately be a good team out there. Just because you’re good on paper doesn’t mean you’re going to be good right away, so you have to get together early and work toward [that]."

He's hoping to give Phantoms fans exactly what they want in 2016-17.

"I hope so," Zengerle replied when asked about helping the Phantoms make a run toward the postseason this year. "My first two years, we made the playoffs both times. My first year we lost in the Western finals to Utica and last year in the second round to Lake Erie. Everyone knows that the playoffs are the best time of the year, it’s so much fun and the games are amped up that much more. I’m definitely looking forward to helping Lehigh Valley get into the postseason this year."


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